Asia’s biggest gay circuit party takes a final bow
“Fundoshi are still used as traditional sports underwear; like a Jock strap the rokushaku fundoshi is tight on the scrotum and lifts the penis to the side upwards positions.”
The Japanese dancer at the Phuket Hilton wasn’t getting much scrotal support from his fundoshi. He had teased them down over his buttocks, and, back to the crowd, was wiggling his well-shaped rear. The audience of semi-naked men roared their approval. A girl reached up and tucked 100 baht into his loincloth.
The dancer and his white fundoshi were part of the show at Nation, Asia's biggest gay circuit party, now in its sixth and final year. Gay men and women from all over the world, but mostly from Asia, paid $180 for a three-day pass to dance to international DJ's, party around the pool and watch Japanese go-go boys and drag shows at the luxury hotel. The organizers even hired a flagger, a man in shiny tights and a handlebar moustache, who made a whirling dervish of color around his head by spinning tie-dyed cloth hemmed with glow sticks through a laser show backdrop.
“The venue is great; the DJ's are fantastic,” says Stuart Koe, the Singaporean founder and chief executive officer of Fridae, the party organizer. The Singapore-based firm also runs Asia’s largest gay web portal at fridae.com and two other annual gay circuit parties – Snowball and Squirt.
All of this outrageousness seems decidedly un-Singaporean but Koe started Nation six years ago because he thought it would be “cheeky to call it Nation and have this big gay party on the eve of Singapore’s national day. It was all about being cheeky.”
The first party was held in a warehouse in Sentosa in Singapore and attracted more than 1,000 partygoers. “We made it into something that outgrew all our expectations,” he adds. “At its peak in 2004, we had 8,000 people partying in Sentosa.”
After four years in Singapore, Koe was forced to relocate after the government of then Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong began refusing the organization permission to hold their parties on the island. The government's move was seen as an end to its relatively liberal policy towards gays. For four years previously it had appeared to be courting the pink dollar. The official line for the nanny state ban was that large gay parties were against the public interest.
So in 2005, Koe moved the party to Phuket, Thailand, where there is greater tolerance to homosexuality. But now, Koe says, this is it. “We have limited resources and we can't afford to commit this level of human resources to organizing big events anymore,” he says.
For good bye it was a swirl, flirty and flamboyant. At the welcome Military Ball, party men clubbed in army fatigues. A group slung leather holsters across their bared chests, another donned a gas mask. One man sported a t-shirt which invited the reader to “enjoy the extra inches”; tattoos were definitely in. Other nights, partygoers covered themselves in gold leaf or twined themselves in light sticks, while the majority just took their shirts off. One clubber partied in his wheelchair.
Headline acts included New York DJ Tony Moran – currently producing and mixing for Janet Jackson and Deborah Cox -- lesbian DJ Kate Monroe from Australia and artists from London, Taiwan and Japan.
“Saturday night was fabulous. Tony Moran is a miracle,” says James, a Taiwanese thirty-something who would only give his first name.
“I don't come here just to party, but also to show support and hang out with my friends,” adds James, who is a regular at Fridae-hosted parties. This year, he notes, there are definitely more Caucasians. “Nation is the biggest single gay event in Asia, and so of course all those Caucasians come here to find Asian boys.”
Londoner Marck Hill says he bought his Nation ticket because he had so much fun at a similar event last December in Taipei. It wasn’t so much to do with the pursuit of Asian boys, he insists. “We spent the afternoon having botox and now we’re here to party,” he laughs, adding that at 38 he’s already a grandfather.
“I’m here for the hot men,” winks his American friend, who wouldn’t give his name as he eyed a Thai boy in tight, tiny shorts and a sailor cap mincing by. “Is it a man? Is it a woman?” the man laughs. “We want real men.”
This year, says Koe, between 1,500 and 2,000 people partied at Nation. Last year’s event attracted 2,000 revelers.
This year the numbers also got a boost from W@Nation, a concurrent event with sponsored Singapore-based lesbian party organizer Twoqueensparty. The 50-odd girls – mainly from the Island nation – got to party with the boys and have their own events, including girls-only pool parties.
Says Twoqueensparty founder Irene Ang: “We have the same vision for gays and lesbians. We want to create a space, a family for gays and lesbians to get together and be themselves.”
But why so few women? The question elicits responses that underscore differing cultures at play.
“You girls just want to shack up together and raise cats,” laughs Hill. “Guys want to go out and party. Girls want to stay home and cook and knit.”
“Our parties are driven by men wanting to meet men,” says Koe. “It’s not just for sex, but when you get down to it, it is driven by that. Women like to socialize – say with dinner parties with their close-knit friends. They are more laidback, there’s more depth to their friendships. Men are more hedonistic.”
Although their numbers were small and despite a possible tendency to stay home and knit, the girls clubbed as hard as the guys, dancing and stripping down to their bras.
Looking back on Nation, Koe is satisfied that something a bit more than just fun and cruising has been accomplished. “Our mission is to empower gay Asia. We want gays to feel good about themselves. To not have any self doubt, to feel like they belong. In some ways our parties are preaching to the already converted. The crowd that come are a niche group (from within the gay community),” says Koe, who is also active on AIDs issues and is a consultant on HIV for both the Hong Kong and Singapore governments. “I think we can reach more people by doing our website and advocacy work behind the scenes.”
If this really is the last of Nation it will likely mark an end – at least for a while – to large scale gay circuit parties in Asia. Although there are several party organizers around they are likely too localized to take over from Nation. Gay circuit parties are big business, particularly in the States, and it takes a big organization to pull one off.
Back at the Hilton, meanwhile, gay men stroll around the resort hand in hand or tug at each other's shorts. The thump of house music reverberates around the elegant resort while regular holidaymakers look a little bemused at what they have stumbled into.
“I feel sorry for the families," grins James. "They come here expecting a nice quiet holiday and they go to the pool with their kids and it's full of semi-naked muscle men.
“On the other hand it's a great chance to educate your kids, show them what being gay is in a really friendly atmosphere… For once straight people are in the unusual position of being in the minority. And look, all the gays are very accepting!”